More Drama Terms
• Allusion—reference to mythology, the Bible, history, literature, etc.
• Aside—words spoken aloud onstage, but only heard by the audience
• Comic relief—break in tension by using humor such as puns,
naughty jokes, silly character, etc.
• Couplet--two lines that rhyme; often used to close a scene
• Dramatic Irony—audience sees the humor in a situation of which
the actors pretend to be unaware
• Figurative language—similes, metaphors, personification, allusions,
• Iambic pentameter—10 syllables of unstressed and stressed
• Play Notation—Act 1, scene 1 = I,I and so forth
• Soliloquy—one person onstage speaks his thoughts aloud in a
Our word ghetto comes from the Yiddish word for
In Shakespeare's time, no Jews had been legally present in England for several hundred
years (1290). However, stereotypes of Jews as money lenders remained. Historically, money
lending had been a fairly common occupation among Jews, in part because Christians were
not permitted to practice usury – then considered to mean charging interest of any kind on
At the same time, most Christian kings forbade
Jews to own land for farming or to serve in the
government, and craft guilds usually refused to
admit Jews as artisans, leaving money lending
as one of the few professions still open to
Dramatis Personae (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE):
Antonio: The title character, Antonio is a wealthy but sad older merchant who claims never
to have borrowed money but is willing to lend to friends, especially Bassanio, without
benefit of interest.
Salerio and Solanio: Friends of Antonio and Bassanio, minor characters almost
indistinguishable from each other who comment on the action and who inform the
audience about the action that has occurred offstage.
Bassanio: A young man with expensive tastes and rich friends who borrows money
from Antonio in order to court the rich, intelligent, and beautiful Portia.
Gratiano: Bassanio’s friend with a bawdy and clownish demeanor. Accompanies
Bassanio to Belmont to court Portia and falls in love with Portia’s servant Nerissa.
Lorenzo: Bassanio’s friend who falls in love with Shylock’s daughter Jessica.
Portia: Widely pursued noblewoman who is as intelligent as she is rich and beautiful. Her
father’s will demands that her husband be selected through a test involving three caskets:
one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. Portia’s mind allows her to find loopholes in legal
matters, thus rescuing her new husband’s friend from his bond.
Nerissa: Portia’s handmaid who falls in love with Gratiano, Bassanio’s friend.
Shylock: The Jewish merchant of Venice who lends Antonio the money on his friend
Bassanio’s behalf. Clever and quick, Shylock is all at once a dark humorist, a moral
absolutist, a religious bigot, an ogre, and, surprisingly, a sentimentalist. He serves as both
the villain and the most tragic figure of the play.
Prince of Morocco: Portia’s suitor and the only black character in all of Shakespeare
outside of Othello. He embodies many of the stereotypical Elizabethan perceptions of
Moors: violent and sexual. He wrongly chooses the gold casket.
Launcelot Gobbo: Shylock’s comic servant who leaves Shylock’s service to serve Bassanio.
Old Gobbo: Launcelot’s blind father who has not encountered his son in years.
Jessica: Shylock’s daughter, who escapes from her father’s house in order to marry
Lorenzo. She converts to Christianity in order to further assimilate into the Christian
society of Venice.
Prince of Arragon: One of Portia’s suitors who arrogantly chooses the silver casket.
Tubal: Shylock’s friend, the only other Jew in the play, who functions as a news
bearer of Jessica’s escape and of her consequent behavior.
Balthazar and Stephano: Servants to Portia.
The Duke of Venice: The reigning official of Venice who presides over the court
ACT I, I.
Antonio, a merchant of Venice, talks of his sadness with his
friends Salerio and Solanio, who believe that his heavy
investments at sea must cause him worry. When he says that
doesn’t bother him, since his wealth isn’t invested in just one
ship, they claim he must be in love. Antonio shrugs this off as well.
When Bassanio enters, he tells Antonio of Portia, a rich and
beautiful woman he has fallen in love with, and, although he has
borrowed money from Antonio before and hasn’t paid it back,
asksto borrow money again so that he may court her, and thus
have enough money to pay Antonio back completely. Even though
Antonio’s money is tied up in the ships, he allows Bassanio to see
what kind of loan he can secure with Antonio’s credit.
1. Antonio seems to have it all. Why, then, is Antonio so sad? Why doesn’t he
know the cause of his sadness? What guesses do Solanio and Salerio have
about the causes of his depression? What lifts his depression?
2. What has Bassanio come to tell Antonio?
3. Why does Bassanio set his sights on Portia? What stands in his way? How
does he plan to overcome those barriers?
4. Bassanio lives well beyond his means. Why, then, does Antonio continue
to lend him money willingly, even though Bassanio has yet to pay him back?
Would you lend money to him?
5. What plan does Bassanio have to pay Antonio back?
6. Although he has condemned usury in the past, Antonio doesn’t need
much convincing to go into debt for Bassanio. Why? What would he get out
of granting him the loan?
7. What does Antonio get from his relationship with Bassanio?
ACT I, II.
In Belmont, Portia complains to her servant Nerissa, that she
cannot choose her own husband; her dead father has stipulated
in his will that Portia’s suitors must pass a test in which they
must choose among three caskets—one lead, one silver, and one
gold—to find which one contains her portrait. The one who
chooses correctly will become Portia’s husband and inherit her
fortune, but if suitors fail, they may never marry.
Portia and Nerissa discuss the faults of suitors who have come
and gone, and remember Bassanio as one who might be worthy
to be her husband.
1. Shakespeare often juxtaposes (placing seeming opposites near one another)
scenes (and therefore characters, settings, ideas) for a purpose. Read I, ii
carefully to see what purpose Shakespeare had in placing these scenes next to
2. How does Venice differ from Belmont?
3. How does Portia and Nerissa’s relationship differ from Antonio and
Bassanio’s? How is it similar? Look at the way they speak. How does Shakespeare
show differences in their personalities and social stature through dialogue?
4. How is Portia’s mood similar and different from Antonio’s at the start of I, i?
5. How does Portia feel about her deceased father’s method of selecting a
husband for her? So far, how successful has it been in eliminating inappropriate
6. Portia mocks each of her potential suitors in turn. What faults does she see in
each one? How do those faults reflect the Elizabethan viewpoints of each of
these cultures? What is different about her criticism of Morocco?
7. How does Portia first encounter Bassanio? What kind of social status does he
8. Reread lines 126-130. Does Portia’s racism shock you?
ACT I, III.
Shylock agrees to lend Bassanio three thousand ducats for three months
and Antonio bound or a pound of Antonio’s flesh to be cut off wherever it
Shylock agrees based on Antonio’s credit but is skeptical, since all of Antonio’s
assets are tied up at sea. He confesses in an aside that he hates Antonio
because he is a Christian who lends money without interest, which makes
Shylock’s profession as a moneylender difficult. Shylock has also been
offended by Antonio’s public physical and verbal assaults against him for
usury, which is considered a sin by Christians. When Shylock points out
Antonio’s hypocrisy, Antonio points out he makes the exception for Bassanio,
not for himself.
1. Again, Shakespeare places a scene in Belmont against one in Venice. What
contrasts does he want us to see in these locations? What are the main
concerns/issues of importance in Belmont? Look for repeated word choices in
this scene. How does the language reflect this?
2. Bassanio contacts Shylock regarding the loan. What are the terms of the loan?
What does it mean for Antonio to be “bound” to a loan?
3. What does it mean when Shylock says, “Antonio is a good man” (l.12)? How
does Bassanio take his meaning? What distinction does this show between the
two men in terms of their priorities or states of mind?
4. Shylock does a risk analysis of Antonio’s ability to repay the loan in ll.13-26.
What are the risks? What does Shylock say outweighs those risks for him?
Would this be enough for you to lend him the money?
5. Bassanio invites Shylock to eat with Antonio and him, but Shylock refuses.
What reasons does he give? Why does he seem so bitter all at once? What
underlying rancor is there?
6. Once Antonio enters, Shylock’s aside gives us insight into why he dislikes
Antonio. How would his feelings reflect the political position Jews held in Elizabethan
society? How would his attitude towards the merchant influence his risk analysis?
7. Examine Shylock’s speech patterns. What patterns do you notice? What figures
of speech does he tend to use?
8. Describe Shylock. What stereotypical characteristics do you notice in the way
Shakespeare’s words present Shylock’s character? What do you see that defies
9. Shylock’s love of money is undeniable. Why does Shylock tell the story of Jacob
and Laban? How does Shylock interpret the story? How does Antonio? Review
Genesis 30 and determine if there is a distinctly “Christian” as opposed to a
“Jewish” interpretation. Which does the play seem to support?
10. Why does Shylock drop the Biblical discussion as soon as Antonio challenges
him? What does this say about Shylock’s place in Venetian society? How do
Antonio’s words in ll.93-98 reflect this Elizabethan perception of Jews?
11. Shylock directly confronts Antonio regarding the way Antonio has treated
Shylock in the past. What wrongs has Antonio committed against Shylock?
12. How does Antonio react to the charges against him? How does he reconcile
that apparent hypocrisy? Why does he say this is even more reason to grant the
loan? Give proof from the text (including line numbers) in your answer.
13. What are Shylock’s terms of the loan? He says he grants it in terms of a “merry
sport” (l.142). Is he joking or serious? How does Antonio take it? How does
Bassanio? Give proof from the text (including line numbers) in your answer.
14. What is the difference between Bassanio’s and Antonio’s perceptions of the loan
terms? What accounts for those differences? Give proof from the text (including
line numbers) in your answer. Would Bassanio have done the same for Antonio?
15. How does Shylock’s loan to Antonio differ from Antonio’s loan to Bassanio?
16. Given this scene, what is important in Venice? Look for repeated word choices
for evidence. How does the language reflect that values system?
ACT II, I.
Morocco has come to take the casket challenge to
win Portia’s hand, but she tells him that if he fails,
he may never marry.
1. Examine Morocco’s opening lines. What issues does he address?
2. Look at the language he uses in ll.1-12 and 22-38. How does the imagery in his
speech reflect the Elizabethan perception of Moors?
3. What is Portia’s reaction to Morocco? Based on her previous comments to
Nerissa, do you believe her? Why or why not?
4. Notice how careful Portia is with her words. Why do you think this is? What
does this indicate about her intelligence?
5. Why do you think there is no Biblical imagery, only mythological imagery, in
ACT II, II.
Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant, ponders (in a silly soliloquy) running away from Shylock to
serve another master. He encounters his father, Old Gobbo, who is nearly blind and doesn’t
recognize his son. Launcelot plays a trick on his father, misdirecting him and pretending that
Launcelot is dead, but soon reveals himself and asks for his father’s blessing. Irony: “It is a wise
father that knows his own child.”
During their reunion, Launcelot and Old Gobbo beg Bassanio to hire him as a servant.
Bassanio then sees Gratiano, who asks to go to Belmont with Bassanio. Bassanio
allows Gratiano to accompany him, making clear, however, that Gratiano needs to be on his best
behavior, since he has a reputation for being a wild man. Gratiano agrees, but asks that his
behavior not be judged on the partying they plan to do that night.
1. What is Launcelot’s debate about?
2. When Old Gobbo enters and Launcelot recognizes, him, why doesn’t Launcelot
reveal himself to his father? What is the purpose in hiding his identity, even briefly?
3. What purpose does the scene between Launcelot and Old Gobbo have?
4. Why does Launcelot want to leave Shylock’s service? How do his comments
affect our perceptions about Shylock?
4. Why does Bassanio accept Launcelot as his servant so quickly? Can he afford a servant?
5. Why does Gratiano want to go with Bassanio to Belmont?
6. What terms does Bassanio give him in order to go? Under what terms does
ACT II, III.
Jessica tells Launcelot that she, too, plans to run away from her father’s house with
Bassanio’s friend Lorenzo.
1. What does Jessica give Launcelot?
2. What clues from I, iii and II, ii and this scene would indicate that Shylock’s house is
3. What “compliment” is Launcelot trying to give Jessica? What is ironic about Launcelot’s
speech in lines 10-13?
4. Why is Jessica so ashamed to be a Jew?
5. How much of her running away is related to her oppressive father, and how much is
related to her faith? What evidence do you have for your argument?
6. What similarities are there between Launcelot and Gobbo’s relationship and Jessica and
Shylock’s? What are the differences you can see this far?
ACT II, IV.
Lorenzo, Gratiano, Salerio and Solanio make plans for the masque, a Shrove
Tuesday (pre-Mardi Gras/Carnivale) celebration, discussing whether or not they
should arrange for torchbearers.
Launcelot, on his way to invite Shylock to dine with Bassanio, arrives with
Jessica’s letter detailing her plans for escape, which includes taking her father’s
gold and jewels.
Lorenzo tells Gratiano that Jessica will be disguised as a page and will serve as a
torchbearer during the night’s festivities.
1. Why would torchbearers be considered
2. What does Jessica’s letter say?
3. What is her plan?
ACT II, V.
Shylock reacts angrily to Launcelot’s leaving him (but is secretly glad to be rid of him), but
accepts the invitation to eat with Bassanio despite some nagging premonitions. Launcelot
hints to Shylock that there will be a Shrove Tuesday masque that night, and Shylock orders
Jessica to lock up the house so as to avoid getting robbed by the revelers. Launcelot tells
Jessica that Lorenzo will go through with their plans.
1. What does the word gormandize (l.3) mean?
2. What is Shylock’s initial reaction to Launcelot’s leaving his service?
3. Why does Shylock say he will accept Bassanio’s invitation?
4. How is Launcelot’s “misused” word (reproach, l.20) actually accurate?
5. Why does Shylock say at the end of the scene that he is glad Launcelot is leaving?
6. How does Shylock perceive himself as a master and a father? Give evidence
from the text to support your answer.
7. This is the first time Launcelot and Jessica are together with Shylock onstage.
How accurate were Launcelot’s and Jessica’s descriptions of Shylock’s household?
How does this further develop our understanding of Shylock’s character?
ACT II, VI.
Gratiano and Salerio meet Lorenzo outside Shylock’s house, in order to help
Jessica, now dressed as a young man (a page), escape with a casket of Shylock’s
gold and jewels. As Gratiano is about to leave for the revelries, Antonio catches
him, saying that Bassanio’s ship is about to depart, so he’d better skip the
1. Why are Gratiano and Salerio anxious?
2. What do the two men say about the nature of love? What view of love does
Gratiano take? What kind of boyfriend do you think he would be?
3. Gratiano swears by his “hood” that Jessica is “gentle, and no Jew” (l.51). What
do his puns refer to? How do his words reflect the Elizabethan values system?
What do they say about Gratiano’s character?
4. Review Bassanio’s speech in I, i, ll.161-176. How is Lorenzo’s love for Jessica
different from Bassanio’s love for Portia? How are they the same?
5. Do you think Jessica will be happy with Lorenzo? Why or why not?
ACT II, VII. SCENE SUMMARY
In Belmont, Morocco enters the lottery to win Portia’s hand in marriage. He reads
the inscriptions on each of the caskets and selects the gold one, whose inscription reads,
“Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire” (l.37). Since the gold casket is made of
such a valuable material, he reasons, it is the only one fit to contain Portia’s image. When he
opens the casket, he finds a skull with a scroll in the eye socket. When he leaves, Portia
declares that she hopes that all “men of his complexion” (l.79) choose the same way.
1. How does Morocco’s mind work, that is, what do his words say about who he is?
Based on his reasoning, what is his opinion of Portia? Where do his priorities lie?
2. How does death represent “what many men desire” (l.37)?
3. Do you think Morocco would have been a good match for Portia? Why or why
4. Is Portia racist? Give evidence for your claim.
ACT II, VIII. SCENE SUMMARY
In one of the most racially charged scenes in the play, Solanio recounts for Salerio
Shylock’s reaction to Jessica’s theft and elopement. Solanio hopes Antonio is able to pay
his debt, but Salerio has heard a rumor that Antonio’s ships have capsized. Salerio
remembers how hard it was for Bassanio to leave Antonio, and the two decide to tell
Antonio what they’ve heard, but to try to break the news to him gently.
1. What does Solanio report that he heard Shylock say?
2. Do you think Solanio is an accurate reporter? Why or why not?
3. If he is accurate, what new insights do you have about Shylock? What does he
value more, his money or his lost daughter? Give evidence from the text to
support your opinion.
4. Solanio reports that Shylock calls out for “Justice! The law” (l.17), and Salerio
acknowledges that the Duke knows about Jessica’s running off with Lorenzo.
What benefit could arise from the involvement of the law in this situation?
5. What reaction do the Venetians have towards Shylock’s grief?
6. What impact will Jessica’s running away with the Christian Lorenzo have on
Shylock and his bond with Antonio? Why?
7. What rumor does Salerio hear about Antonio’s ships?
8. What impression do you get about Antonio’s and Bassanio’s relationship based
on Salerio’s description of their parting?
ACT II, IX.
Aragon undergoes the casket test and selects the silver casket, which
reveals a portrait of a “blinking idiot.” As soon as Aragon leaves, word
comes that Bassanio has arrived to try the test.
1. What can you tell about Portia’s attitude towards Aragon? What text clues do you
have to support this?
2. What is Aragon’s logic in selecting the silver casket? How does his logic reveal his
character? How is his thinking different from Morocco’s? Is he more or less
intelligent than Morocco?
3. What does Portia mean in her response to Aragon’s questions (ll.60-1)?
4. What does Nerissa’s comment mean (ll.81-2)? What do you make of her
character thus far?
5. Why is the messenger so favorable in his description of Bassanio?
6. What is Portia’s response to the messenger?
ACT III, I.
Solanio and Salerio have heard reports that confirm that Antonio’s ships have indeed
wrecked, and they are concerned about his bond with Shylock. Shylock, still reeling
from his daughter’s escape, hears from Salerio about Antonio’s bad fortune, and his
grief turns to anger. Salerio questions whether Shylock will really take his pound of
flesh from Antonio, and Shylock responds that he will take it in revenge, just as a
Christian would (“Hath not a Jew” speech, ll.50-69). Tubal, another Jew, confirms
Antonio’s shipwrecks and tells Shylock that he hasn’t found Jessica, but has heard that
she has spent 80 ducats in one night and has traded her mother’s ring for a monkey.
Enraged, Shylock gets an officer to arrest Antonio in order to collect his bond.
1. How are minor characters such as Salerio and Solanio designed to reflect
Venetian society at large?
2. Why is it so sad for Shylock that his daughter converted and married a Christian?
3. Why does Shylock channel his grief over Jessica’s leaving into anger at Antonio?
4. According to this scene, were Salerio and Solanio’s report about Shylock’s
reaction to Jessica’s escape correct? How has this affected your opinion of those
two characters? Did Shylock’s reaction affect your opinion of him?
5. Which does Shylock miss more: Jessica or his money? How would his grief and
anger affect the way he talks about the losses?
6. Based on how Shylock has been treated by Christians, is it wrong for him to
want revenge? If positions were reversed, would Antonio demand the same?
7. Why is the loss of the ring even more agonizing to Shylock?
8. Is Shylock a villain or a victim of persecution?
ACT III, II.
Bassanio arrives in Belmont to vie for Portia’s hand, and she tries to delay his choice
so as to spend more time with him in case he chooses incorrectly. She wishes she
could teach him how to choose, and in fact gives him clues in her song, but will not
defy the letter of the law of her father’s will. When Bassanio chooses correctly,
Gratiano reveals that he is in love with Nerissa, completing the third romantic
couple of the play. Lorenzo, Jessica, Salerio, and a messenger arrive from Venice, and
Bassanio receives the news that Antonio has been arrested. Portia offers to repay the debt
even twenty times over, and Bassanio makes plans to return to Venice to try to rescue his
1. How is Portia’s demeanor with Bassanio different from that with her other
suitors? What new side of Portia are we seeing? Give support for your answer
from the text.
2. Why the new emphasis on music (l.43)?
3. Examine the end rhymes of Portia’s song as well as the images it includes. How
might these be construed as hints?
4. Look at the circumstances under which Bassanio has come to court Portia. Is
he the type of man Portia’s father would have chosen for her? Does he have an
unfair advantage in her hints?
5. Compare Bassanio’s logic in selection with Morocco’s and Aragon’s. How does his
elimination process differ from theirs? How does his description of the
world also describe himself? Would he have been able to choose without Portia’s
hints or encouragement? Why or why not?
6. Portia gives Bassanio the ring with a warning, and Bassanio accepts the ring
with his own pledge. How is this contract or bond similar to and different from
the one made in Venice? What significance did rings have in Elizabethan
England? Do they have the same significance today?
7. What news do Gratiano and Nerissa have? What bet do they make with
Bassanio and Portia?
8. Look at the “welcome” given to Jessica (ll.218 and 237). How does she try to
fit into Belmont society? What will life be like for her?
9. Bassanio comes clean about his financial status (ll.250-271). What effect does
that have on Portia?
10. How does the news from Venice change the language used in Belmont?
11. What does Antonio’s letter indicate about his feelings for Bassanio?
ACT III, III. SCENE SUMMARY
Shylock takes Antonio to jail, with Antonio pleading for mercy in vain. Solanio and
Antonio discuss whether the Duke will dismiss the case, but Antonio believes the law
will hold. If one contract is broken, then the whole financial foundation of Venice will
1. Why does Shylock insist on the punishment for forfeiting the bond?
2. Why does Solanio think the Duke will forgive the forfeiture? Why doesn’t
3. Much of this play has to do with Christian vs. Jewish standards of morality.
What takes precedence in Venetian law, where commerce is king?
ACT III, IV.
Portia leaves her estate in the hands of Lorenzo while pretending to stay
at a monastery a few miles away during their husbands’ absence.
Instead, she gets documents and legal clothing from her lawyer cousin
so she and Nerissa may go to Venice. Portia promises she will divulge
her plan on the way to Venice.
1. Why would Portia even consider helping Antonio?
2. What does she tell Lorenzo that she and Nerissa will do? What is their
3. What does Portia’s speech about their disguises (ll.60-78) say about
her opinion of men?
4. How is she equipped to portray a man?
5. What does Jessica’s cross-dressing have in common with Portia and
Nerissa’s? What purpose does each serve?
6. What disadvantages do you see with Portia, coming from Belmont to
Venice? What advantages does she have?
ACT III, V.
In a scriptural debate Launcelot tells Jessica he believes she is damned for her father’s sins,
but she asserts that because of her husband, she will not be. Launcelot complains about
the conversion of the Jews, which, since they will not be forbidden to eat pork, will raise
the price of bacon.
Lorenzo enters and berates Launcelot for getting a Moorish servant pregnant.
He and Nerissa discuss Portia’s merits, and Lorenzo comments that he is as great a
husband as Portia is a wife.
Pun—”The Moor is more than I took her for…”
1. Antonio quips that the devil can cite scripture for his own purpose (I, iii, l.95).
How does the scriptural debate between Launcelot and Jessica serve each
character’s purpose? This debate has the potential to explode the harmony of
Belmont. How does Shakespeare diffuse this?
2. How has the relationship between Jessica and Launcelot changed since
Launcelot became Bassanio’s servant and not Shylock’s? Has his change in
master changed his personality? Explain.
3. Why does Launcelot use wordplay as humor? What effect does his humor have?
4. What do Jessica and Lorenzo think of Portia? Why is their opinion important
enough for Shakespeare to show?
ACT IV, I.
Shylock refuses to dismiss the bond, even for repayment of twice the original loan.
The Duke tries to reason with Shylock, asking him to have mercy in order to gain
mercy, but Shylock argues that, since he has purchased his pound of flesh, it is his
to do with as he likes.
Portia and Nerissa show up disguised, respectively as a young lawyer and a clerk, just as the
Duke is ready to allow Shylock to claim his bond. Portia, as Bathasar, acknowledges the
bond, but appeals to Shylock with her “quality of mercy is not strained” speech
(ll.183-204). When he refuses, Portia says the law must be upheld, but asks him to
reconsider mercy. Still, he demands his bond.
As Shylock prepares his knife and the scales on which to weigh the flesh, Antonio
bids a passion-filled farewell to Bassanio (and Gratiano), who declare that they would give
up their new wives’ lives to keep Antonio alive, to Portia and Nerissa’s chagrin.
As the sentence comes down, Portia reveals the loopholes in the law: not a drop of
blood may be spilled with the taking of the pound of flesh; and precisely a pound of
flesh may be taken, no more or less. Otherwise, all his possessions will be confiscated by
the state of Venice.
When Shylock backpedals, trying to take the payment rather than the bond, Portia shows no
mercy. Furthermore, since Shylock has essentially plotted murder, his property will be split
between Antonio and the state, and he is subject to the death penalty. Antonio gives
Shylock half of his half back if he makes a will leaving his estate to Jessica and Lorenzo.
The Duke allows him to live but requires that not only should Shylock’s property be willed to
Lorenzo and Jessica but that Shylock become a Christian as well.
Shylock assents, saying, “I am not well” (l.395).
Antonio and Bassanio offer to pay the disguised Portia and Nerissa for their help.
They refuse, but Portia agrees to take Antonio’s gloves, asking Bassanio for his wedding ring.
Bassanio initially refuses, but recants, sending Gratiano to deliver the ring.
1. What is Antonio’s mood going into the trial? How does this compare with
his mood in I, i? Why do you think this is?
2. What comparisons does Antonio make concerning Bassanio’s arguing with
3. How is others’ treatment of their slaves comparable to Shylock’s treatment of his
‘pound of flesh,’ according to Shylock? How does this argument test Venetian law?
4. If the courts do not uphold Shylock’s claim, what does that mean for the laws
5. How do those in the courtroom react to Shylock? How would you describe their
behavior? How is their behavior similar to and different from behavior towards
him in the streets of Venice? Find evidence from the text for your comparison.
6. What appeals does Portia make in petitioning Shylock to have mercy? What
effect do these appeals have on Shylock?
7. Why is Shylock so adamant about the law and in his refusal to grant mercy,
despite the offer of double and triple repayment? What is greater than his
religion and his love of money?
8. Does it surprise you that Portia upholds the law instead of bending it in this case?
Why or why not?
9. What does it mean for Shylock to call Portia “a Daniel”?
10. Why does Shylock refuse to get a doctor to attend to Antonio?
11. What effect do Bassanio’s pleas have?
12. What is Antonio’s reaction to the trial?
13. How does Gratiano respond to the proceedings?
14. How does Portia save Antonio’s life?
15. What is the legal punishment for conspiring against a Venetian’s life?
16. What mercy does the Duke show? Before he gives his punishment, the Duke
tells Shylock that he will “see the difference of our spirit” (l.367). What is the
spirit of the Venetians, and by extension, Christians?
17. What about Antonio’s mercy? What are his conditions?
18. How does Shylock feel about the outcome of the trial? How do you feel about it?
19. Was this a fair trial? Explain.
20. What do the Venetians gain from Shylock’s conversion to Christianity? Why
would this punishment be viewed as a virtuous one?
21. What new insights do Portia and Nerissa have into their husbands’ natures as
a result of this trial?
22. Shakespeare calls this play a comedy. How does the outcome of this trial help
the play qualify?
23. Why would Portia ask Bassanio for the ring he had promised not to give away?
What does this say about her character?
24. What excuse does Bassanio give the disguised Portia for not initially giving her
his wedding ring?
25. How easy is it for Antonio to change Bassanio’s mind? What does Antonio say
Bassanio should value more than the ring?
ACT IV, II.
Portia and Nerissa deliver the deed for Shylock to sign. Gratiano catches up to
deliver Bassanio’s ring to them. Nerissa decides to get Gratiano to give up his ring,
and both plot to make the men sorry they ever did.
1. What does the fact that both Bassanio and Gratiano give their rings away say
about relationships between men and relationships between men and women?
2. How serious will the consequences of giving the rings away be? How do you
3. What is Shakespeare’s intent in bringing in the ring plotline here? What purpose
does it serve?
ACT V, I.
In Portia’s garden Lorenzo and Jessica compare themselves to famous romantic
couples of myth and literature. When servants inform them of their masters’ arrivals,
Lorenzo asks for music with which to greet Portia, noting its power to charm.
Portia and Nerissa arrive, warning the servants not to mention their absence. Upon his
return Bassanio introduces the women to Antonio.
Portia and Nerissa quarrel with Bassanio and Gratiano respectively about their missing
rings, withholding their husbands’ marital privileges until they have their rings back. In fact,
both women confess they slept with the lawyer and his clerk to retrieve their rings.
Before the men are too shocked at their wives’ “unfaithfulness,” Portia shows them a letter
from her lawyer cousin explaining their roles in saving Antonio’s life.
In true romantic form, Antonio’s ships miraculously return, Lorenzo and Jessica learn they
will inherit Shylock’s fortune, and everyone retires to bed as morning comes.
The whole tone of the play is changed by Gratiano’s ending couplets.
1. How does the dramatic shift in setting affect the tone of the play at this point?
2. Why does Shakespeare return us to Lorenzo and Jessica? What can we glean
about their relationship? Are they a good match? Explain your answer.
3. What effect does music have on the characters specifically, and on the scene in general?
4. Examine the argument about the ring (ll.192-208). What is the tone of that
argument? How do you know this? How has Shakespeare molded the language
to convey this tone?
5. How is this scene the comic inverse of the courtroom scene from IV, i.?
6. How is Portia’s intelligence an asset to her marriage? How is it a hindrance?
7. Note the language play in this scene. How does it reflect the emotional tone of the scene?
8. The act starts in moonlight and ends as morning comes. Why?
9. Does this play have a “happily ever after” ending? Why or why not? What
contributes to that feeling? What detracts from it?
1. Although Shylock only appears in five scenes, he dominates The Merchant of Venice. In fact,
many critics say that although Shylock was first intended to be a stock comic character, he
“outgrew” Shakespeare’s play. What do they mean?
2. In an essay, defend or refute: Shylock is the most morally upright character in the play.
3. A Shakespearean comedy often involves complex twists of plot and usually ends in
marriage. A Shakespearean tragedy involves a hero whose downfall is thefocus of the play.
British actor Peter Ustinov said once in an interview, “A comedy is just a tragedy gone wrong,
and a tragedy is just a comedy gone wrong.” Using evidence and direct quotes from the play,
write a persuasive essay in which you convince your readers that The Merchant of Venice is
either a comedy or a tragedy.
4. The Nazis found The Merchant of Venice to be a useful piece of propaganda during their
reign. How would their production have looked? How would the characters have been
portrayed? Which lines would have been emphasized?
Write an essay in which you discuss how The Merchant of Venice could have been an effective
tool for spreading anti-Semitism?
5. Throughout the play, Christians de-personalize and alienate Shylock by refusing
to use his given name. Instead, they call him “the Jew,” “the villain Jew,” “this
currish Jew,” “impenetrable cur,” “harsh Jew,” “infidel,” “cruel devil,” and the
devil “in the likeness of the Jew.” To the Christian characters, Shylock is the
embodiment of the devil. Write an essay discussing whether Shylock is a villain or
a result of the way he has been treated, using support from the play as evidence.
6. In Shakespeare’s world the stereotype of Jews was viciously negative; similarly,
Morocco, an African, would have been scorned as inferior. But do Shakespeare’s
plays encourage or challenge the widespread anti-Semitism and racism of the
time? Write an essay in which you examine which characters reinforce negative
images, and which break the stereotypes and how. How do you think a modern
viewer’s response to stereotypes differs from viewers in Shakespeare’s time? Do
you conclude that Shakespeare was anti-Semitic and/or racist? Why or why not?
7. Write an essay in which you examine the various types of love featured in The
Merchant of Venice: friendship, love between father and child, romantic love, as
well as love of possessions/money. Which type of love is shown to be the
strongest in the play? What about the tensions in some of the relationships?
What is Shakespeare telling us about the nature of love?